5 Fuel Alternatives to Petroleum

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Coffee grounds used as an alternative to oil

Spent coffee grounds contain between 11 and 20 percent oil by weight, similar to other popular sources of biodiesel such as soy and palm seeds. Photo: Flickr/Oberazzi

The Gulf of Mexico oil spill has officially reached two months, with 558,000 barrels of oily liquid recovered, according to BP.

For oil that isn’t recovered, should we anticipate a loss of fuel for our transportation and energy needs? Not necessarily, as there are several alternative fuel options from many different products.

1. Cooking oil/grease

The by-product of much of home and restaurant cooking can be converted into biodiesel, which is capable of powering any vehicle that takes diesel fuel. This includes trucks, buses and even some passenger cars.

In cities like San Francisco, free pick-up is offered to restaurants to collect used cooking oil and produce biodiesel. In addition to limiting the need for petroleum-based diesel, restaurants that recycle grease will keep it out of their pipes, where it leads to clogs and damage to sewer infrastructure.

2. Human/animal waste

Using cloth diapers as a way of keeping poop out of landfills? This waste can actually be used as renewable energy. In fact, a soon-to-open recycling facility in England specializes in this process. Plus, the plastic from the diaper can be reprocessed into other products such as roofing tiles.

Humans aren’t the only creatures that can “produce” alternative energy. GE Energy is currently studying the ability of using methane from cow manure to produce energy, estimating that 2,500 cows can power 200 homes. This would also mean an additional source of revenue for dairy farmers that could sell this manure.

3. Tires

According to the U.S. EPA, 45 percent of disposed tires are shredded and used as tire-derived fuel. This fuel is used to power cement kilns, paper mills and numerous other manufacturing plants.

It’s worth mentioning that, since each tire manufactured contains about 10 gallons of petroleum-based oil, producing fuel from tires is not actually replacing petroleum. But considering this is the No. 1 use of disposed tires in the U.S., there is definitely a market for the fuel.

4. Packing peanuts

Consumers may know these peanuts by the Dow brand name Styrofoam. These foam peanuts are a challenge to recycle. Luckily, packing peanuts can be dissolved and turned into biodiesel.

Similar to tires, this fuel is taking existing petroleum in order to make an alternative fuel. It is also still in the testing phase, and there are debates about whether this fuel can maintain power output.

5. Coffee grounds

Coffee grounds have a valuable disposal use outside of the compost pile. They can be turned into biodiesel.

The trick here is that used coffee grounds contain a fair amount of oil, equivalent to the amount of oil in soybeans or rapeseeds. One bonus of this fuel is its flavorful aroma.

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